Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko are expected to meet today in Moscow. The talks come
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko are expected to meet today in Moscow.
The talks come a little over a week after mass protests rocked the former Soviet republic of Belarus. Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian president since 1994, is seeking his sixth term in an election scheduled for mid-August. Demonstrators took to the streets after two of Lukashenko’s main opponents—popular YouTube vlogger Sergei Tikhanovskiy and business mogul Viktor Babariko—were taken into custody by the country’s secret police on allegations of financial crimes.
The protests—which Lukashenko claims have been fermented by Russia in an effort to interfere in the election—have coincided with a diplomatic divergence from Moscow and friendlier relations with Washington. Russia’s alleged meddling and the global collapse in oil prices have prompted the reversal (Russia has put pressure on Belarus to end its practice of profiteering from access to cheap Russian oil). Washington recently appointed its first ambassador to Minsk since 2008.
In an effort to thwart growing backlash against his domestic handling of COVID-19, expect Lukashenko to continue to court sympathies from Washington and its European allies until oil prices sufficiently rebound. Moscow will likely continue to leverage its cultural and economic ties with Minsk, and could even offer financial or military assistance in the medium-term should protests threaten the survival of Lukashenko’s regime.
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